One fateful afternoon Rory Camden learned that Nick Shard, her best friend for life, was the victim of a terrible boating accident where at least one man was left for dead. In sick horror, she realized she’d refused to tell him how she felt about him, though he’d begged her to, right before he headed onto the water.
Rory’s father’s unfaithfulness had haunted her throughout her life, and she’d determined she couldn’t trust any man with her heart, even Nick. The only confidante she truly trusted was her diary, where over the years she’d put down all her emotions: from joy to despair, from hate to love.
But then Nick re-entered her life with a vengeance and suddenly Rory was faced with the fact that what had once been friendship was fast turning to desire. How could she think about Nick that way. . .? And letting him know how she felt would only spell disaster. But Nick had his own ideas where Rory was concerned. His penetrating way of getting under her skin became a danger to all her carefully laid plans to keep her heart under lock and key.
And now time had run out. . .
Strains of music filtered inside, and Rory glanced around the restaurant to see a three-piece band tuning up at a small patio to the right. Moist air off the Sound had dampened the tile floor, but even so, several couples had drifted outside, waiting to dance. Rory heard soft laughter as the band broke into a slow song.
“Ready?” Nick asked, tossing down his napkin.
“Oh. No. No dancing.”
“No, Nick.” She tried to evade the hand he reached across the table, but he caught her arm, pulling her to her feet despite her efforts to keep him at bay. She didn’t want to be that close to him. He was her friend and that was that. This was just a dinner and that was all she wanted.
“What’s wrong with dancing?” he asked, peering down at her. Then, “What in God’s name do you do for fun, Rory?”
“I don’t have fun. I don’t believe in it. It’s not good for the soul.”
“Says who?” He laughed.
“It’s a truism of life. One of those things you just learn.”
“You overthink things too much,” he growled low in her ear, guiding her to the dance floor against her will. “Let go a little.”
Rory stumbled in his wake. “Nick. . .” she warned.
“Stop fighting me.”
“I hope this isn’t your usual tactic with women, or you’re going to lose popularity.”
“I’ll take my chances. So who have you been seeing lately, hmm?” he asked, drawing her into his arms.
Rory tried to wriggle free, but even though he held her loosely, his grip was surprisingly hard to break. “No one.”
“There must be someone.”
“Well, there isn’t.”
He closed his eyes as if lost to a memory then slowly opened them and asked, “What about Don Tisdale? He looked like a contender.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t date people I work with.” He laughed silently. “What?” she demanded.
“This isn’t a date?”
“No,” she said immediately. “And we’re not really working together yet, either.”
“I call bullshit on that.”
“You can call bullshit all you want. It’s my rule.”
She was suddenly aware that the tune was too slow and romantic for a dance with Nick. She opened her mouth to tell him so at the same moment he dragged her tighter against his body.
The shock of hard masculine thighs and steely arms froze her tongue. “I always thought you’d marry,” he said, his breath ruffling her hair.
“No? Why not?”
“Because I would have to marry a man.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have to,” he drawled, after a moment, as if he were thinking about her meaning. “What’s wrong with men?”
“I don’t know. You’re the expert.”
“I get the feeling you’re trying to tell me something.”
They danced silently for a few moments, then he asked, “If marriage is out, how about having an affair with someone?”
“I think that sounds more like your department, not mine.” She bent her head, suddenly remembering that time they were together in college. “You’re not offering your services again, are you?” she asked, glancing up at him.
For a moment Nick looked blank, then he broke into laughter. “I didn’t offer my services before,” he reminded her, grinning. “You just wanted me to.”
“Faulty memory!” she declared.
“Total recall,” he argued. She muttered under her breath, and he asked, “What was that?”
“I was expressing my reaction to your comment in four letter words.”
“Thought that’s what I heard.” A smile lingered in his voice.
Hard fingers rested lightly against the small of her back. Rory could feel every single one. She had to escape. “What about you? No repeat trip down the aisle in your future?”
“Not so far, but there’s always hope.”
“You would consider marriage again?” She pressed her hand determinedly against his chest, vainly trying to put some space between them.
To thwart her, Nick grabbed her fingers and wound them around his neck, gazing down sardonically into her flushed face. “Relax. I don’t bite. Well, not usually anyway,” he amended. “There was that time with . . .”
“I don’t want to hear about it,” she said.
“Kidding. You know what that is, right? Kidding?”
“If memory serves.”
“You seem to have a rather low opinion of my morals. Why is that?”
She thought of Jenny’s comment to her that day at the restaurant when Nick was out of earshot. “I don’t know. Maybe because you cheated during your marriage?”
Nick stopped moving, his hands at her waist suddenly hard and unfriendly. “Where’d you get that idea?”
“Your wife,” she said.
“Jenny? Jenny told you that?” He was stunned.
“Unless you have another one.”
“My marriage broke up because Jenny wasn’t the woman for me, and I wasn’t the man for her,” he stated flatly. “I don’t know why she’d say that, because I didn’t cheat during our marriage.”
“I didn’t make it up,” she said. “She told me that at the restaurant that day.”
“Doesn’t make it true.”
She sensed how angry he was, but wasn’t sure what to say next.
Silence followed. They swayed back and forth. She felt his jaw brush her forehead as he glanced down and tried to read her expression. Rory purposely focused her gaze on his broad chest.
“Maybe she wanted me to think the worst of you,” Rory said into the silence.
“And you did,” he said, effectively ending that discussion.
Neither of them spoke a word for the next couple of songs. Rory wished she’d kept her thoughts to herself. Whatever the truth was, Nick’s life was his own. She had no right to criticize him.
And she wished they could just leave. Dancing with Nick – just being with Nick – made her uncomfortable. She was overly conscious of his scent and his strength and his disturbing touch, and she couldn’t seem to have an easy conversation with him, either. Every breath she took brought her breasts in hard contact with his chest, and the brush of his thighs against hers caused an awareness in her that she refused to acknowledge.
She had to get out of there.